Guest Blog by Tanya Selvaratnam, author of ‘The Big Lie’.
I got the idea for The Big Lie after my third miscarriage at the age of 40 in fall 2011. I wrote the book that I wished I could have read then. In the book, I explore many Big Lies. The Big Lie is that we can do things on our own timetables. The Big Lie is that we can manipulate evolution. The Big Lie is that we don’t need feminism anymore.
Frustrated not so much by the lack of information but by the conflicting messages in the media, I wanted to explore how delaying motherhood intersects with science, feminism, evolution, popular culture, female friendships, global economics, and more. When I started writing, I had no idea how my own situation would evolve, and I was completely unprepared for the logistical and emotional roller coaster my life would become. The book is part memoir and part manifesto. I offer my personal story to connect to while presenting up-to-date research, interviews with experts and women around the country, action items for the future, and a comprehensive list of resources.
In this excerpt of Chapter 4, I introduce you to the moment I stepped for the first time into a fertility center. I hope that the experiences and thoughts I recount resonate with many of you. When I began pursuing treatment, I turned to Circle + Bloom and Your Fertility Deals. I joined the mailing list, and in spring 2012, I downloaded the Discover Your Mind Body Power podcast. By winter 2013, after it was clear that my original plans were not working out, after dealing with cancer, surgery, and marriage issues on top of the failed pregnancies and fertility treatments, I was downloading the Healing and Recovery podcast.
When I walked into the Fertility Center at Massachusetts General Hospital on September 7, 2011—just a week after my third D&C—I was stuck in a continuum of loss. The first pregnancy had brought me joy then heartbreak. The second and third ones were accompanied by fear, which I suppressed until my anxiety was ultimately proven justified. One miscarriage felt like a disappointment; three felt like a curse. I began to mull over the mistakes I had made in my life and wonder if past or even occasional transgressions had resulted in my not being able to carry a baby to term.
All my life, I’ve put one foot in front of the other and prepared for various possible futures. I’ve seen the options and kept going with which- ever one became most real. What I’ve done is not as important as what I will do. But maybe what I’ve done is preventing me from having a child. Becoming a mother was a role I shirked throughout my childhood, teens, and twenties. Then I met Jay, and motherhood seemed desirable and fun because I had a partner I wanted to have a child with.
Now Jay and I were sitting in the office of Dr. Irene Souter as a couple with fertility problems. Dr. McGaraghan, my ob/gyn, had warned me that the biggest obstacle to having a successful pregnancy would be my age. Why had I waited so long to see a specialist? Why hadn’t my previous doctors referred me to one earlier? In a survey conducted by Merck (the pharmaceutical giant) and RESOLVE (the national infertility association) of fifty-seven participants, 91 percent of those seeing a fertility specialist wished that they had gone earlier.1
I remember the feeling of heaviness between Jay and me that day. We were in the world of infertility now. Our courtship and marriage had been so exciting and full of love, but the failed pregnancies came soon into our union and kept coming. A 2010 SELF magazine article on breaking the silence around infertility quoted a man named Jack who was pursuing fertility treatments with his wife: “It’s almost impossible to convey what it’s like to people who haven’t gone through it. There’s a feeling of despair and loss that you just can’t quantify. So much weight is on the line, so many questions about genetics and identity and what it means to pass that down—or not.”2
Is it worth trying so hard to have a child? What are Jay and I missing out on now by focusing so much on our fertility? Will he still love me if I don’t have a child? How do I find the words to talk to him about this?
When Jay and I walked into the waiting room on September 7, everyone looked depressed. There was no art on the walls. I wished they would make these places look more happy. In her office, Dr. Souter told me that because it was so soon after my miscarriage, I would have to wait until my period returned to begin the recurrent miscarriage tests. Jay would have to be tested as well, and we set up his blood work and semen analysis appointments for later that week.
Did I really want to be a mother? And why does it feel like we have to jump through so many hoops to become one? Wouldn’t it be great and logical if there were more support systems (like universal insurance coverage for fertility treatments) in place for those of us going through the process of having children and more support systems (like subsidized childcare) for those who are already parents?
At one point I had a free subscription to Good Housekeeping, and I actually read every issue. Ellen DeGeneres was on the October 2011 cover. I really like Ellen, so I immediately opened the magazine. In it was an article called “Crisis Control” by Mark Matousek, which began with boilerplate suggestions like acknowledging your pain, dialectical thinking, deep breathing, and yoga; but it ended with the concept of “Focus on Faith”— that the ability to turn one’s confusion over to a higher power and to find solace in psalms is a boon when the chips are down.
My pondering got me thinking about the problems women face in confronting their realities. Too often, they are expected to tough it out or turn to faith. Believing will help you have that child. Believing will ease your burden. I will live the life that I have been given.
But this is fatalism, I thought. If you believe that, then you might as well believe that babies are dropped down chimneys.
Those years of failing to become a mother had given me time to think hard about what I wanted. They had also sparked an intense desire for . . . I don’t know, success at having a child. Now, I want so much to have a child that I will be destroyed if it doesn’t work out.
Today, I’m still on the Circle + Bloom mailing list because I consider myself a survivor, part of a community, and I believe it’s good to stay informed about the topics that Circle + Bloom covers. At the moment, one year out from the endpoint of the book, I am still healing, but after working on the book, I have found fulfillment in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started writing it.
In the Discover Your Mind Body Power podcast, Joanne Verkuilen tells us, “The brain is one of the most powerful tools for health that you have.” I hope my book arms women, and men, with better information so that they feel like they can make better choices. I want people to share their stories, strategize for their goals, and advocate for a better future. I wrote the book to be a conversation-starter and policy-changer.
A great compliment is when readers tell me that they felt like they were on the journey with me and that they find the book unexpectedly uplifting. I also love it when they tell me that the book opens their minds and impacts their decisions. I hope you enjoy the excerpt and thank you for reading! I would love to hear from you, so please send your feedback to email@example.com.
Tanya Selvaratnam is a writer, an actor, a producer, and an activist. She has produced work by Chiara Clemente, Catherine Gund, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems; and has performed with The Wooster Group and The Builders Association. She is also the Communications & Special Projects Officer for the Rubell Family Collection. As an activist, she has worked with the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Third Wave Foundation, the NGO Forum on Women, and the World Health Organization. Her book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock is available worldwide. For more info, please visit tanyaturnsup.com